Business management

Family Business Week: every employee is a family member to Platts Agriculture Ltd

How a three-generational, family-owned animal bedding business has expanded by investing in its own commercial and transport divisions.

This year, Family Business Week (21 -25 November) celebrates the central role family firms play in shaping and supporting their local communities, economy and long-term sustainability. We continue to use our platform to celebrate the diverse and innovative success stories of businesses like Platts Agriculture Ltd, which have built on many years of heritage, inspiring the next generation of family businesses to come.

Caroline Platt has come a long way since she joined her parents in their evolving and growing agricultural business. Her parents both remain as shareholders, along with her children, Chris and Claudia. The company started as a means of providing bedding for the livestock on her parents’ own farm near Wrexham, but very quickly became a national market leader, providing high-quality, sustainable bedding for the dairy, poultry and equine markets.

“My mum stumbled across a joinery shop that had piles of wood shavings left over as residue from their manufacturing process, and she started to use the product as bedding on our own farm,” explains Caroline. “It turned out to be really effective but since the joinery business required her to take all of the residue from their business, there came a point when there was too much material for our farm. 

“At this point, Mum saw an opportunity and took the initiative to sell to other local farms in the area, providing them with the same benefits that they were experiencing. It was a huge success and, as time went on, they needed more and more material to satisfy demand. The business grew organically from a solution to provide for their own farming husbandry.”

Cost-conscious and sustainable

Caroline says the family traded on their farm for a number of years until they had to move operations to an industrial unit. Now the firm owns and operates four sites in Llay Industrial Estate, Wrexham. And with backing from NatWest, the company has recently secured another substantial plot for further expansion of its fully automated operation.

“Having our own separate transport division makes the process much more cost efficient and reliable,” says Caroline. “The wood manufacturing businesses rely on us to collect their by-products because if that didn’t happen their operations would stall, and the materials would potentially be discarded or burnt, creating emissions to the environment. So we provide a circular economy that drives growth and sustainability. 

“On the distribution and haulage side, we can make sure the deliveries are made in a cost-conscious and sustainable way.”

Developing a succession plan

As managing director, Caroline, with the strategic support of her son Chris, employs over 65 people directly. While she hopes to pass the business down to younger family members in future, Caroline says she would be just as happy for non-family members to remain as shareholders. She is looking to develop a strong leadership and management team to ensure the business’s continued success and maintain its strategic growth plans. 

“I want to build a business that has a strategic management team made up of not only family members but also like-minded individuals who share the same goals and values of our family business,” she says. “The next MD of Platts Agriculture may not necessarily be a family member but must share our passion and pride for the Platts brand and legacy.” 

In addition to Platts’ strategic growth plans, Caroline has ambitious plans to diversify. “I’d like to establish an investment company whereby new companies can be formed around the existing ones and future generations could choose which business to be a part of,” she says. “But it won’t be forced upon them; it has to be a choice because I think you’ve got to be happy within your work.”

Despite being a family-run firm, Caroline says every member of the workforce has a say in how the company operates. Accountability and ownership are key values of the business. “Our culture is very important, and everybody has a voice, everybody has value,” she says. “It’s not just the family members because every employee is a family member to us. It’s having that shared value that the business is one large family.”

Supporting the local community

As well as earning a mantlepiece full of awards over the years, including the 2022 Federation of Small Businesses’ UK-wide Family Business of the Year Award, and an FSB Environmental/Sustainability Award, in 2018 Platts was recognised as Royal Warrant holder to supply bedding for animals on the Windsor Estate.

Platts Agriculture was also announced winner of the Excellence in Sustainability Award 2022 from West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce and received the Chwarae Teg FairPlay Employer award for gender equality. 

The company is heavily involved in several local charities and supports its local community whenever called upon. 

“Our community has supported our growth over the years so it’s a way of giving back,” she says. “The business will have no value if you don’t support your community and be a responsible member of it.”

A network of family businesses

Caroline firmly believes that family-owned businesses with a similar ethos and values can work together to help each other, especially in the current, challenging financial climate.

“The past few years have definitely had their challenges, but I think our loyal network of suppliers and customers have helped us through it,” she says.

“Quite a few of our suppliers are family-run manufacturing businesses, and our customers – farmers – are also family businesses, so we operate in a network of family businesses that understand each other’s struggles to support one another, creating a strong network.

“It takes years to build up these key relationships, but with that comes deep loyalty, trust and support. It really helps multiple family businesses flourish together.”

Find more on family business here

Family Business Week (21 – 25 November) is a celebration of family businesses as a force for good. Whether you’re a family business owner, employee or adviser, or a policymaker, there are plenty of ways to get involved and show your support for Family Business Week.

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